Sunday, June 28, 2009

I call that a bargain

This newsletter edition focused on a music festival Led Zeppelin played two years in a row (1969 and 1970) on exactly the same date (June 28).

On this day in 1969, Led Zeppelin participated for the first time in a music festival, one of 19 bands appearing on two different stages.

Blues bands Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Ten Years After were the headliners at the Bath Festival of Blues. Zep was fourth on the bill, ahead of the Nice.

Led Zeppelin's popularity in England having just taken off over the course of its first proper tour of the country that month, the band's booking as the fourth act on the bill is a remnant of the final days Zeppelin would support other bands. Promoter Freddy Bannister recalls in his memoir, "There Must Be a Better Way," that he heard the people attending the festival all talking about Zeppelin on their way out -- not any of the three acts that closed the festival.

In fact, it now made sense to him why Zeppelin manager Peter Grant had been keen on renegotiating the band's fee, which was originally booked to play the festival for the minuscule amount of £125. Bannister, who mentions this nonchalantly in his book, agreed to a renegotiated fee of £200 for the band. He said this was still a bargain, particularly in light of the fees the group would eventually be demanding.

It is easy to demonstrate the progress Led Zeppelin made within the following year by comparing its appearances on this June 28 and on the same date the following year. The 1969 event, held on one day, was called the Bath Festival of Blues, and the 1970 event was called the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. Led Zeppelin returned to headline a three-day festival over Santana, the Byrds, Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa, to name a few. The crowd in 1970 was five times larger, and most people arrived just in time on the third day only to see Led Zeppelin.

Zep's longtime tour manager, Richard Cole, remembered the Bath Festival in a recent interview with Dave Lewis conducted for the syndicated U.S. radio show "Get the Led Out." "The [Bath Festival] in 1970 was enormous," said Cole. "It was outside in a big field. That was, I should think, their biggest show to date at that time." It was, in fact, held not at the Recreation Showground as in 1969 but at the Royal Bath & West Showground in Shepton Mallet.

As for the band's act on this day in 1970, it may have been the first concert with the newly written "Immigrant Song." At that time, Led Zeppelin had just "come from the land of the ice and snow," where they performed a single concert in Reykjavik, Iceland. Robert Plant has said the show in the unusual destination of Reykjavik gave the band some much-needed street cred to fend off the endless stream of naysayers. "It was always like that with Led Zeppelin: 'Who do they think they are to be so pompous?' And we weren't being pompous. We did come from the land of the ice and snow. We were guests of the Icelandic government. We were on a cultural mission representing the musicians of Britain, and we were invited to Reykjavik to play a concert."

After Led Zeppelin kicked off its concert at the Bath Festival in 1970 with "Immigrant Song," it then proceeded to open shows with the same tune at every show for exactly the next two years: Today's date not only marks the Bath festivals of both 1969 and 1970, with the first known performance of "Immigrant Song" taking place on the latter; it also marks the last time "Immigrant Song" opened a Led Zeppelin concert, on June 28, 1972.

One final thing to mention about the Bath Festival in 1969 is the poster, which Bannister said had an image of a stereotypical female flower child whose waistcoat was blowing around in the wind, revealing an abundant amount of flesh. He recalls in his book being told some ticket outlets considered the poster obscene and therefore weren't displaying it. This didn't hurt ticket sales, however, as he was elated to find out tickets for the 1969 festival had completely sold out.

This poster image is now available on a T-shirt than can be ordered through the Bannister family's online store at The site also has replica posters available, including for the 1969 Bath Festival and the later Knebworth festivals, including the two Led Zeppelin performances whose 30th anniversaries approach just over two months from now. In fact, the Bath Festival in 1970 was the last major outdoor U.K. gig for Led Zeppelin until the Knebworth Festival in 1979.

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